County planner pushing tourism, retirement in Lee
In the past year, government officials in Lee County and Florida have seen revenues from property taxes plummet along with property values, leading many to call for bringing in other industries so there is not an overreliance on construction.
However, one Lee County planner warned not to overlook the staples of the local economy — tourism and retirement — as the area grows.
“I wouldn’t sacrifice (the tourism and retirement industries) for anything else,” Wyatt Daltry said Tuesday after speaking to the Fort Myers Republican Women’s Club.
Daltry, father of Cape Coral city planner Wyatt Daltry, has long been a proponent of “smart growth,” something he says began in 1950 that the county is still trying to implement today, despite economic troubles.
One factor of the harsh economy that could hinder growth is the massive national debt incurred in the past 30 years, Daltry said.
“When my generation was in charge, we ran up a bill,” he said, citing the Reagan presidency to today as an era in which the national debt grew $9 trillion. “We’ve run up so much debt, it’s hard to get financing for critical infrastructure.”
That means updating existing infrastructure systems instead of adding to them.
“We’re going to be working on our transportation systems, our water utility systems to work better for people, so we don’t have to keep expanding,” Daltry said.
While the local economy is currently struggling, there are global factors working to Lee County’s advantage, Daltry said — if the county does not lose sight of its main industries.
Globalization and the recent expansion of middle classes in countries like China, India, Brazil and others means a wider pool of potential tourists to attract to Lee County. Also, the post-World War II “baby boom” generation — a worldwide, not just American, phenomenon — is reaching retirement age.
Given the current economic climate, there is a temptation to gear policy decisions at attracting other industries, Daltry said, but it would be a mistake to grow at the expense of the core of Lee’s economy.
“There’s always the danger of that happening if you don’t sustain your infrastructure and growth,” he said.
Republican Women’s Club member Jodi Van Cooney said she was impressed with Daltry’s presentation.
“Wayne has been here long enough, he basically knows what we need,” she said.